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Doctor Mongo: Bio

Harry Harpoon - Harmonica, Slide Guitar and Vocals

Fellow bluesman Bobby Walker once told Harry Harpoon: “You just like to wallow in it, man. You start in playing and it’s just one big blues wallow. You’re a real blues hog.”

Born and bred in East L.A., Harry Harpoon began playing harmonica at age three because “it was the only instrument Grandpa didn’t play.” His folks weren’t crazy about their eldest becoming a musician (“Mom had this idea about me learning to be a draftsman”) but they did give him The Beatles’ “White Album” one Christmas. “The only song I liked was ‘Revolution’, which turned out to be an Elmore James lick-- but at the time I didn’t know who Elmore James was.” The only other record Harry owned was a Jimmy Reed album (obtained in an illicit manner.) “The girls loved Jimmy Reed and I wanted to get close to the girls. I didn’t even know who Jimmy was or what that music was but I knew I liked it.”

Though he sang in grade-school choirs, it was his first love—harp—that lured Harry to the stage: he was one of four harmonica players in the White Whale Blues Band in high school. But his professional harp debut occurred at the Crazy Horse in Nevada City, California. In 1973 he found himself singing on-stage when he started the Blue Ribbon Band with Southern California musicians Brennan “Stonefingers” Totten on guitar and Bruce King on drums. “In high school, I fooled around on the guitar, but didn’t perform until 1974—always using open tunings because I didn’t know how to tune the thing except by turning the pegs until something sounded like a chord. At first I mostly specialized in breaking strings... I saw this blind guy playing bottleneck and liked the way it sounded so I taught myself slide (guitar).”

Blue Ribbon’s drummer had “one of the biggest blues record collections around—stacks of albums along every wall of his house. There, I finally heard The Masters: Big Walter, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson I and II, Elmore and, of course, Muddy. And Son House, Robert Johnson and Booker White. And Howlin’ Wolf. Until I heard those guys, I was just floppin’ and thrashin’.”

Harry studied the recordings of The Masters, and when Blue Ribbon entered a Battle of the Bands at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, they emerged the victors over up-and-coming Journey. “Suddenly we’re backing up Big Joe Turner and George Harmonica Smith. And it just went on from there.” Subsequently Harry also shared a stage with many other blues greats as well as folk luminaries, including Elvin Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, Margie Evans, Utah Phillips and Robert Cray.

The first time Harry Harpoon heard Booker White “I just flipped. What kind of instrument was that? So I got a National and started playing resonator guitars as well as my Strats. Sonny & Brownie were huge influences, too.”

Harry’s solo career took off and he headed to Washington, D.C., where the first “Harry Harpoon & The Housewreckers” band was born. Later he returned to the Sierra Foothills and soon after, Blue Ribbon’s guitar player Brennan Totten followed Harry north, joined by the inimitable Frankie Ford on drums, then J.D. Nicholson “whoopin’ on the ivories”. Other Housewreckers included Pittsburgh Willie, Terry Pittsford and Bill Smart.

Home base for the Housewreckers was Nevada City/ Grass Valley. The boys worked seven days a week, sometimes two or three gigs a day-- mostly in the Foothills, but touring north to Seattle, east to the Rockies and south to Arizona, providing some of Harry’s fondest memories of performing.

“In Nevada City, everybody couldn’t fit inside the Crazy Horse, so they’d block off the street and people would dance outdoors... We had a lot of energy.... Guys would come up to me and say,’God I love it when you play, Harry, I always get laid.’”

After an operation on his left hand to correct the crippling effects of Dupytren’s Syndrome, Harpoon headed overseas. In Hawaii, he found out he’d actually been playing slack-key for years. On the Big Island, he played with the Lim and Halemau families doing dedications, christenings and clubs. Continuing southwest, he spent a month playing in Fiji before traveling on to New Zealand. “They loved me there. I really made a ton of dough but I was betting on the horses... In Australia, my main gig was at the Texas Tavern, a five-story brothel.”

In 1983, back in the Foothills, The Housewreckers re-formed, and Harry Harpoon recorded his first album “Live at the Crazy Horse.” A prolific songwriter, Harpoon’s compositions have been covered by Utah Phillips, Charlie Daniels, and Montgomery Gentry. He also became an active (and vocal) participant at mountain man gatherings, and recorded “Rendezvous” at Bennett House in Grass Valley in 1987, followed by “Crude but Effective” in ‘89 and “Sufferin’ Right Along” in 1990.

Harry lived and played in Montana during most of the early 90s, but relocated to the Western Slope of Colorado “when the folks took sick” to care for them. That necessitated Harry putting his career on hold. After his parents had both passed six years later, he returned to California, where he met future wife Laura Lee (who inspired the cut of the same name on his CD “Sorry I Missed You,” released in 2001), and the two of them traveled back to the Western Slope. There, Harry first hooked up with superb Detroit/Dallas bluesman Bobby Walker and Chicago ace Howard Berkman, and also renewed his friendship and musical collaboration with John Billings, who plays drums and co-produced “Sorry I Missed You” (as well as building the Grammy awards in his Ridgway, CO studio).

Based for several years in Colorado, Harpoon opened for touring musicians like Harper (from Australia) and George Thorogood, but primarily played venues from Denver to Salt Lake, the West Coast to Montana, recording a new live CD and releasing a collection of vintage cuts from the old Housewreckers band. “Red’s Blues,” a CD recorded in one take at the Grammy Studio, features Harry and Bobby Walker as they appear live--playing side by side with no over-dubbing, but creating a gut-bucket sound “that’s a lot of racket for two guys.” Harpoon became active in the Durango Songwriters guild, headed by Lisa Blue, a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and was also an avid supporter of Paonia’s public radio station KVNF.

In the summer of 2003 Harry Harpoon changed his base of operations to northern California, this time to help care for his favorite mother-in-law.
At fifty-plus, Harpoon’s voice has matured into a powerful instrument that infuses life into whatever he sings, while his slide playing and rhythm guitar licks range from sweet and soulful to rousing and even raucous. At his solo gigs, he somehow manages to play drums at the same time. But it’s his raw energy and the bone-deep tone and range of emotion on the harmonica that trademark each of Harry Harpoon’s live performances.


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Over the course of his career, Harpoon has played with (in no particular order) :

George “Harmonica” Smith, Big Joe Turner, Charlie Musselwhite, Utah Phillips, The Persuasions, Jerry Lawson, James Harman, Esther Mae Scott, Elvin Bishop, Flying Burrito Brothers, William Clarke, Ron Thompson, Lynwood Slim, Bruce King, Johnny Heartsman, Jack Shaw, Kelvin Dixon, Bobby Walker, Howard Berkman, Nate Shiner, Catfish Copeland, Pittsburgh Willie, Dr. Mongo, Baltimore Red, Fiddlin’ Jake, Jimmy Morello, Buster Jiggs, Stonefingers, Herb Superb, Annie Rose, Terri Marie, Kenny Miller, Paul Emery, Backwoods Jazz Quartet, Tom Schmidt, Annie McCann, Eleanor McDonald, Tom McDonald, Cary “Homer” Grzadinski, Virginia Grzadinski, The Halemau Family, The Lim Family, Abe Lukela, Cap’n Billy, Ron and Reggie Valenti, Sammy Kameluchi, Tony Colucci, Ted Moniak, Dio, Mario Asti, The Boogie Doctor, Jelly Roll, Archie Edwards, Frank Ford, Bill Tarsha, Susie Tarsha, Meigs Barba, Hot Pepper, Swingin’ Sammy Dee, Rusty Weaver, Ralph Dinosaur, East LA Joe, Hoppy (Chocolate), Amos Tuckahoe, Alan King, Mike Stein, Lisa Blue, Barry “The Tripod” Fleming, Darryl Joan Bush, Archie Edwards, John Jackson, Smokey Wilson, Dale Renee, Freeman Lacy, Cecil, Ed Trembly, Glenn Patterson, Don Monson, J.D. Nicholson, J.D. Hamilton, The Anders Brothers, Bob Greenspan, Russ Austin, John “The Grammy Dude” Billings, Rick Estrin, Arturo Monet, Norman “Skip” Matthews, VGO, Joe Glaser, Jeff Reynolds, Cross Bear, Wierd Harold, Jonathan Richman, The Blue Flames...

Harry's played on the same bill with:

Margie Evans, Albert Collins, Lowell Fulsom, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Brownie McGee, John Mayall, George Thoroughgood, Gatemouth Brown, Dave Mason, Marshall Tucker Band, John Hammond, Robert Lockwood Junior, Willie Smith, Son Seals, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Sippee Wallace, Curtis Salgado, Robert Cray, Hamilton Loomis, Todd Tijerina, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, Santiago Jimenez, Dakota Sid, Curtis Lawson, Mick Martin, The Dogtones, The Crawdaddies, Sunland Blues Band, Saguaro Blues Band, Eddie Money, Hawks & Eagles, Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys, The Platters, Thicker Than Thieves, Charlottesville All-Stars, Nitehawks, The Modern Lovers, Journey, Hines, Hines & Hines, Dusty Rose (on The Gong Show), Rod Piazza, Joe Houston...

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Doctor Mongo - Industrial Strength Guitar

HOW DOCTOR MONGO GOT HIS NAME

I am a native Son of the Golden West, born 'Way Down South' in Glendale, California. I decided to become a drummer at age 12 and by 13 I was playing in surf bands in Southern California. Nobody could sing, so we loved playing reverb-drenched guitar instrumentals for our teen-aged peers. About this time, a Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar came into my possession and I began to work out Jimmy Reed rhythms and boogie woogie figures when I wasn't flailing at my drums.

I retired as a drummer in 1974 and bought my first good guitar, a Guild D 25C which I still play regularly, in 1976. I got some instruction from Kenny Hall in Fresno around this time and began to focus on improving my playing and singing.

After learning some "Commie Chords" from Ted Flanigan down in Austin, Texas in the late '70's, I purchased a Fender Stratocaster and a Princeton Reverb amplifier from a guy who was leaving town in Billings, Montana. I had worked up the nerve to sart playhing amplified guitar in public around 1983 and here is where the intricate tale of the naming of "Doctor Mongo" begins.

At this time I had what is commonly known as a "real job" as a petroleum geologist in Billings, Montana. We were quite busy and our draftsman, Dick Lorenz, was overwhelmed with work. After his request to hire assistance was refused by management, Dick circulated an interoffice memo declaring that, henceforth, priority of future drafting projects would be determined by order of battle! He set up pairings of competitors and gave us all nicknames: Paul "Mongo" Garrison vs. Mike "Bear" Bryant. I was named for my physical resemblance to former Detroit Lions lineman Alex Karras who played the stupido bandito Mongo in the movie "Blazing Saddles". But wait - there's more!

Everybody in the office began to call me "Mongo" and I cheerfully accepted my nickname. Sometime later, I was demonstrating my patented hook shot and getting my usual two to three inches of "air" while shooting hoops at the YMCA with one of my colleagues, Bob Grabb. Observing my athletic prowess, Bob doubled over in laughter. I asked him what was so funny and he declared that my performance had reminded him in an ironic way of "Doctor" Julius Erving and the name "Doctor Mongo" had popped into his mind, thus reconciling a ridiculous image with an equally ridiculous name. I also began laughing when he explained the situation and this led to the next stage in the evolution of my name.

DOCTOR MONGO STEPS OUT

During the middle 1980's, I had begun to play electric guitar in public, starting with the Blue Monday jam sessions at Casey's Golden Pheasant in Billings, Montana. This led to occasional musical collaborations with such local luminaries as the multi-talented Dale Renee', saxophonist Freeman Lacey, bassist Robin Martinez and drummer and NPR DJ Brad Edwards. I also played guitar with local bands, including Rocky and the Rock-Its, Cold Shot, Shades, the Art Hooker band and Route 66. My recreational schizophrenia kicked in when I decided to create a stage persona that was different from my workaday Homer Simpson/Al Bundy image. I had been given a name that was memorable and funny, so I adopted "DOCTOR MONGO" to represent the guitar player/entertainer side of my life. This was all harmless fun until I met HARRY HARPOON.

Harry is the best harmonica player I know and has been from the time I met him around 1985, or perhaps a little later, in Billings, Montana. Harry is a Buckskinner. I had discovered the pleasures of Buckskinning in 1983 up near Polebridge, Montana when I attended the Western National Rendezvous with my geologist colleague Mike "Bear" Bryant. Ostensibly, the people there were re-enacting a Rocky Mountain Fur Trade era (1825-1840) summer encampment assembled for the purpose of trading beaver pelts for necessary supplies and whiskey. In reality, it was a drunken orgy with costumes and lots of shooting, including black powder muzzle loading cannons. Anyway, my immediate interst in Harry as a singer, slide guitarist and harmonica player was enhanced by my discovery of our mutual interest in Buckskinning. $10 per barrel oil made me a Consulting Geologist in 1988 and this gave me more time to devote to music and Buckskinning, and so, in July, 1990, I was introduced by Harry Harpoon at the Jackson Hole, Wyoming Centennial Rendezvous as "DOCTOR MONGO"!

Since that fateful night, the reputation of DOCTOR MONGO has burgeoned. Performances at innumerable campfires and many in bars, roadhouses and night clubs from California to Texas to Pennsylvania have expanded my experience and inspired my song writing.

Back in 1969, when I was the drummer for the Belladonna Nightmare Blues Band (It was the '60's!), we opened for John Mayall at Whittier College and received a standing ovation from a crowd of 10,000. Since then, I have had opportunities to jam on guitar with jazz trumpeter Jack Walrath, blues tenor saxophonist Eddie Shaw(formerly with Howlin' Wolf) and Dallas guitarist "Hash" Brown. I've played with Baltimore Red Jones at the Full Moon Saloon in the Fells Point district of Baltimore, Maryland.

Until 2006, Harry Harpoon and I have played together often but irregularly at Mountain Man Rendezvous and in bars and roadhouses mainly in the Rocky Mountain states. This year we have collaborated on three CD titles and are now promoting our music from Colorado and Wyoming, to Utah, Montana, Idaho and Oregon with live performances, to the whole planet via the internet. We will be opening for Maria Muldaur at the Delta Blues Festival in Delta, Colorado on September 30th, 2007.

Update: Harry Harpoon and Doctor Mongo have competed as semi-finalists at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee in 2008 and 2009. We were the headliner act at the Iron Horse Music Festival in Shoshone, idaho in 2008. We had a triumphant gig in Winter Haven, Florida at Tanners Pub with Baltimore Red and Dean Oliver which should get the Perfect Bedlam Band into Florida Tour Mode next winter. Watch the calendar for further news!